Even though the Oakland Raiders are reeling a bit from their playoff loss; fans can take comfort in the fact that their team is coming off their best season since 2002, they have a franchise QB, and are primed for a healthy run throughout the next few seasons.
With every season, there comes the time to reflect, and look ahead to the next season.
The Raiders will be heading into the off-season with about $46m in cap space available to spend on free agents, or contract extensions for the current roster.
Quarterback Derek Carr and defensive end/LB Khalil Mack are both due solid extensions, and do not be shocked if the Raiders try to extend one or both players this Summer.
Carr is in line for a commensurate extension in the neighborhood of $120m over 5/6 years with about $70m in guaranteed money. Mack will be looking at commensurate pay that will be close to Von Miller range as a top DE in the game.
These upgrades will surely put a dent in the payroll for the team; and GM Reggie McKenzie will be looked upon to hit well upon the draft in coming seasons to accommodate the high payouts to the team’s top players.
Here is a position and coaching guide to see where the Raiders may be heading into the 2017 season.
Derek Carr is the franchise right now, plain and simple. The loss of Derek Carr proved fatal to the chances of the Oakland Raiders at the end of the season. This injury caused the Raiders staff and fans to know two things: Matt McGloin is not an NFL QB, and there is a need to give Connor Cook more reps in practice. McGloin has a plethora of confidence, but lacks any ability as a QB in the NFL – the old adage applies here, “those who can’t play, coach.” McGloin should be a coach. Fans should not shoulder the full blame of the playoff loss on Cook as his offensive line, and several receivers in that game should want to burn that game tape with how bad they played. Cook was under constant pressure due to the ineffectiveness of Menelik Watson and Austin Howard on the outside, and the combination of Crabtree/Cooper both had a case of “drop-itis” with both receivers dropping easy balls in the game. Cook needs more reps in practice, and should be a serviceable backup, at a much cheaper cost than McGloin next season.
Outlook for 2017: Carr will probably be looking at a solid contract extension, and Cook will be the backup heading into 2017. McGloin will look to have his services utilized elsewhere.
Latavius Murray had what many called a “roller coaster” season in 2016. He had tremendous highs, lows, and twists in between. Murray showed brilliant displays of his talents on several occasions, but also showed a lack of patience to let the plays develop on other times. Now, Murray is heading into free agency. Do not be shocked if the Raiders let him walk for a big payday as the team has hit fairly well with DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard this past season. The Raiders would better suit themselves if they were to replace Murray with a possible draft pick in the 3rd or 4th round as several top RBs will be available around that time; and will be able to form a solid triumvirate at RB that will cost 1/3 of what Murray wants in free agency. Murray will be looking at around $5-$7Mm guaranteed, and the Raiders can use that savings towards other players.
Outlook for 2017: Raiders thank Murray for his service, and allow him to walk via free agency. Raiders draft a running back in the 3rd or 4th round to form a new three-headed monster with Washington and Richard.
Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper both had good seasons; but both dropped off the Earth it seemed towards the end of the season. Cooper and Crabtree are two of the most talented receivers in the game, but both had issues in completing catches throughout the season. Crabtree ended with 12 dropped passes, and Cooper had issues with knowing where his feet were in regards to sideline management. Honestly, it boils down to coaching with these two players, and look for the Raiders to make a change in this area first. Seth Roberts will be a free agent and do not look for the Raiders to retain his services as he made a few brilliant plays, but they were overshadowed by his ineffectiveness in the slot, and plethora of dropped passes. Andre Holmes played spectacular in the playoff game, and will garner plenty of interest in the offseason via free agency.
Outlook for 2017: Look for the Raiders to first find a quality receivers coach to really make a difference with Crabtree and Cooper. The Raiders will allow Roberts to walk via free agency, and try to bring Holmes back at a lower price. If they are not able to retain Holmes, they will look to bring in a veteran slot receiver for a lower price, and will look towards the draft again to fill the excess void.
Clive Walford showed flashes of brilliance on why the Raiders drafted him in 2015, and will look to take his place as the premier TE for Derek Carr in 2017. Mychal Rivera seemed to be an outcast headed out of town to start the season; but with injuries and ineffectiveness of the other TEs, he became a solid option at TE towards the end of the season. Rivera will be a free agent this spring, and will surely garner some interest from teams looking for a solid TE. Lee Smith was brought in to be the man, and just cannot seem to stay healthy, and may become a salary cap casualty this offseason. Smith is highly thought of in the locker room, and on the field, but his health the last two seasons has been an issue.
Outlook for 2017: Look for the Raiders to allow Rivera to leave via free agency, and to bid adieu to Lee Smith and his $3m salary that can be used for other positions. The best possible scenario would be to restructure Smith to a much lower guaranteed salary, and extend him over two years. There will be several TEs available in the draft, and via free agency that will cost much less than a blocker that cannot remain healthy.
Current Offensive Line coach Mike Tice is up for a contract renewal this offseason, and may look for greener pastures if not well compensated for his quality work this past season. Kelechi Osemele, Donald Penn, Rodney Hudson, and Gabe Jackson were phenomenal this past season for the Raiders. The loss of Penn along the line for the playoff game just threw off the whole vibe of the line, and showed that the Raiders are in need of a change at the opposite Tackle position. Austin Howard played ok, but his salary is not worth retaining him at this rate. Howard is scheduled to make $6.4mm in 2017, and really has never lived up to the huge contract given to him in 2014. If the Raiders cut him, they will do so after June 1st, and only be hit with a $1.4m hit on the dead salary cap position. Menelik Watson just never has been healthy for the Raiders, and was absolutely dominated in the playoff game against the Texans. Watson is a free agent, and will more than likely not be in the Silver and Black next season. The Raiders do have a few options with Denver Kirkland and Vadal Alexander in the wings, and could be groomed to take over in this area.
Outlook for 2017: Look for the Raiders to try and renew Coach Tice with a much deserved pay upgrade, cut Austin Howard after June 1st, and allow Watson to leave to greener pastures. With Howard gone, the Raiders will save close to $5m towards the Salary Cap. The most interesting rumor that recently arose was that of the Raiders making a trade to bring 49ers Pro Bowler Joe Staley over to be the Right Tackle; which would make sense as why would he want to stay on a team that will have its 4th different Head Coach in 4 seasons. The Raiders could easily accommodate his salary, and make for one of the most dominant tandems in the NFL with Donald Penn.
The Defensive line had a tough year for the Raiders as they were saddled with injuries and periods of ineffectiveness that plagued the Raiders all season. Defensive End Khalil Mack had a superior season again, but also had periods were he was completely ineffective because his mates along the line were not able to step up their game. Injuries are a part of the game, but it seemed the Raiders were saddled with more than their fair share along the defensive front line. DTs Stacy McGee, Darius Latham, and Dan Williams all missed time this season due to injury, and were highly missed along the front. DE Mario Edwards showed tremendous promise in the preseason, but was again lost due to a major injury, missed a huge chunk of the season, and was sorely missed in the pass rush game. Young DE Jihad Ward filled in admirably, and will be relied upon to grow in the future, but he is still raw, and considered a long-term project. The Raiders will definitely need to shore up this area for the long-term success of the team, and continued dominance of Khalil Mack.
Outlook for 2017: For the Raiders to be successful, they will need to upgrade their pass rush ability up along the defensive front. Stacy McGee is a free agent, and will be looking for a pay increase, which the Raiders will look to do at a reasonable cost. Dan Williams and his $4.5m salary may become a cap casualty as the Raiders have quality replacements in Darius Latham and possibly a returning McGee. The Raiders will probably look to the draft for pass rush help along the front lines with an “active” DE/DT. The player that jumps out the most to fill this void is Utah DE/DT Hunter Dimick that should be available in the 3rd or 4th round, and be around the next few years at a reasonable cost.
This is a true area of need for the Raiders. The past few seasons, we have seen the Raiders LBs victimized on a weekly basis with bad coverage of TEs and RBs in the flat, and awful tackling of runners once they get passed the line. Malcolm Smith was brought in to bridge that gap, but had tremendous trouble in covering TEs in the passing game, and really never lived up to the show he put on in the Super Bowl as a member of the Seahawks. Ben Heeney was injured, but proved he is not the answer at all as the “Mike” linebacker with his issues in coverage, and inability to shed blockers. Perry Riley came in as a late replacement from the Redskins, and played ok, but still had issues in being easily blocked along the front lines. Riley will also be a free agent and look to increase his salary from the veteran minimum. Outside LB Bruce Irvin was honestly the lone bright spot, but was primarily used as a pass rusher and rarely utilized in coverage. The Raiders need to make a concerted effort here to upgrade this area in the offseason via the draft or free agency.
Outlook for 2017: Raiders fans should pray that Reuben Foster is available at pick #24 for the Raiders; if he is there – he will make for the best option at the MLB position. Do not be shocked if the Raiders will also bring in another few options via veteran minimums in this area and rookie free agency.
Thankfully, Raiders fans should be seeing the end of the DJ Hayden experience at CB. Hayden never lived up to the hype, and his penchant for committing egregious penalties should be another team’s problem in 2017. 2016 FA signee Sean Smith had a slow start to the year as he was not looking good early in the season, but picked up in the 2nd half of the year. David Amerson was the opposite, as he looked good early, and played very suspect in the 2nd half as opponents towards the end of the year victimized him. 2016 1st round pick Karl Joseph played up to expectations of a rookie as he showed flashes of brilliance, but also times where he looked in over his head. Safety Reggie Nelson showed why he was worth the free agent contract as he was the glue that kept the secondary together throughout the year with his steady play. The surprise was the solid play of special teamer Brynden Trawick towards the end, and may be in line to get another contract offer from the Raiders for 2017.
Outlook for 2017: Look for the Raiders to upgrade a few areas here via free agency or the draft. If a top tier Middle Linebacker or Defensive End is not available at pick #24, the Raiders will surely pick a corner to replace Hayden.
Place Kicker Sebastian Janikowski has been a Raider stalwart for the last 2 decades. “Seabass” still has a booming leg at age 38, and can make a huge difference in a game. However, Janikowski was erratic this year as he missed several FGs that were makeable, and a few PATs that could’ve cost the team. Janikowski is scheduled to make $4.4mm in 2017, and if push comes to shove with the salary cap, he may just become a cap casualty. Punter Marquette King had a great year, even with his dancing routines that irritated opponents. King will be under contract next season for around $2.5mm. Long-time long snapper Jon Condo however will be a free agent, and his veteran minimum salary can easily be replaced by a less expensive option.
Outlook for 2017: Raiders will more than likely keep Janikowski, unless they feel there is a replacement that can match the potential Hall of Famer. Raiders will look to free agency or after draft options at long snapper.
Jack Del Rio had an outstanding 2nd season for the Raiders, and had the team on the cusp of winning the division. Now many pundits want to put in their 2 cents; but Del Rio aided the team in gaining confidence early with gutsy calls that gave the team a much-needed boost to start the season. Del Rio is a local guy with several ties to the Bay Area, and is hoping to stay long term with his favorite childhood team.
Outlook for 2017 and beyond: Del Rio will be offered an extension if the team plays solid again in next season.
This is where things get dicey. Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave is up for renewal on his contract, and due to a season where the Raiders made huge strides on the offensive front, will more than likely be returning. Many pundits were irritated at several of the play calls this year, but the growth of Derek Carr is undeniable. Things cannot be said for the same on the defensive side of the ball, as Defensive Coordinator Ken Norton JR did not have the same luxury. His defenses were constantly shredded, and the pass rush was non-existent in key situations. Now many will point that the defenses did play better in the 2nd half of the year, and the defense was saddled with countless injuries; but the stats are undeniable, and the lack of focus and play in the last two games were just horrific.
Outlook for 2017: Musgrave will more than likely get a renewal. If a better option for Defensive Coordinator arises (Wade Phillips), then Ken Norton JR will be looking for a new job.
Mike Tice has done a magnificent job as the leader of the offensive line. He has developed the Raiders into arguably one of the best units in football, and aided in the development of several players. Tice will be up for a renewal and should get paid this offseason, or he will take his talents to a team that will. Raiders WR coach Rob Moore may be looking for another job this offseason due to the many issues that plagued the team in 2016. The Raiders dropped countless passes, ran wrong routes, and seemed to have an issue with sideline management. Defensive Back’s coach Marcus Robertson may also be looking for a new position as the DBs for the Raiders played erratic all season.
Outlook for 2017: Look for a WR coach to specialize in field management and work with these star WRs on making sure to complete the catch through the play. Look for new coaches on the defensive side of the ball, especially if the Raiders bring in a new coordinator.
Overall Outlook for 2017
Overall, the Raiders played way above expectation in 2017, and will look to build upon that success for the future. Derek Carr will get healthy in a few weeks, and by making a few tweaks along the line, the offense will be superb in 2017. The defense will need some upgrades in a few areas, but with Mack and Irvin on the outside, and with a possible return to action of Aldon Smith, the Raiders will be much better on that side of the ball.